Yes. I would like to see organized religion take up the struggle for animal rights. Religion has been wrong before. It has often been said that on issues such as women's rights and human slavery, religion has impeded social and moral progress. It was a Spanish Catholic priest, Bartolome de las Casas, who first proposed enslaving black Africans in place of the Native Americans who were dying off in great numbers.
The church of the past never considered human slavery to be a moral evil. The Protestant churches of Virginia, South Carolina, and other southern states here in the U.S. actually passed resolutions in favor of the human slave traffic.
Human slavery was called "by Divine Appointment," "a Divine institution," "a moral relation," "God's institution," "not immoral," but "founded in right." The slave trade was called "legal," "licit," "in accordance with humane principles" and "the laws of revealed religion."
New Testament verses calling for obedience and subservience on the part of slaves (Titus 2:9-10; Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:22-25; I Peter 2:18-25) and respect for the master (I Timothy 6:1-2; Ephesians 6:5-9) were often cited in order to justify human slavery. Many of Jesus' parables refer to human slaves. Paul's epistle to Philemon concerns a runaway slave returned to his master.
The Quakers were one of the earliest religious denominations to condemn human slavery. "Paul's outright endorsement of slavery should be an undying embarrassment to Christianity as long as they hold the entire New Testament to be the word of God," says contemporary Quaker physician Dr. Charles P. Vaclavik. "Without a doubt, the American slaveholders quoted Paul again and again to substantiate their right to hold slaves.
"The moralist movement to abolish slavery had to go to non-Biblical sources to demonstrate the immoral nature of slavery. The abolitionists could not turn to Christian sources to condemn slavery, for Christianity had become the bastion of the evil practice through its endorsement by the Apostle Paul. Only the Old Testament gave the abolitionist any Biblical support in his efforts to free the slaves. 'You shall not surrender to his master a slave who has taken refuge with you.' (Deuteronomy 23:15) What a pittance of material opposing slavery from a book supposedly representing the word of God."
In 1852, Josiah Priest wrote Bible Defense of Slavery. Others claimed blacks were subhuman. Buckner H. Payne, calling himself "Ariel," wrote in 1867: "the tempter in the Garden of Eden...was a beast, a talking beast...the negro." Ariel argued that since the negro was not part of Noah's family, he must have been a beast. Eight souls were saved on the ark, therefore, the negro must be a beast, and "consequently, he has no soul to be saved."
The status of animals in contemporary human society is not unlike that of human slaves in centuries past. Quoting Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:18 or any other biblical passages in favor of liberty, equality and an end to human slavery in the 18th or 19th century would have been met with the same kind of response animal rights activists receive today if they quote Bible verses in favor of ethical vegetarianism and compassion towards animals.
Some of the worst crimes in history have also been committed in the name of religion. There's a great song along these lines from the early 1990s by an American punk rock band, Rage Against the Machine, entitled "Killing in the Name Of".
Someone once pointed out that while Hitler may have claimed to be a Christian, he imprisoned Christian clergy who opposed the Nazi regime, and even Christian churches were subject to the terror of the Nazis. Thinking along these lines, I realize that while I would like to see organized religion support animal liberation (e.g., as was the case with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the American civil rights movement) rather than simply remain an obstacle to social and moral progress (e.g., 19th century southern churches in the U.S. upheld human slavery on biblical grounds), this support must come freely and voluntarily (e.g., "The Liberation of All Life" resolution issued by the World Council of Churches in 1988).
Religious institutions can't be coerced into rewriting their holy books or teaching a convoluted doctrine to suit the whims or the secular political ideology of a particular demagogue. American liberals argue that principle of the separation of church and state (upon which the United States was founded) gives us freedom FROM religious tyranny and theocracy. Conservatives argue (the other side of the coin!) that one of the reasons America's founding fathers established the separation of church and state was to prevent government intrusion into religious affairs.
I agree with Reverend Marc Wessels, Executive Director of the International Network for Religion and Animals (INRA), who said on Earth Day 1990:
"It is a fact that no significant social reform has yet taken place in this country (the United States) without the voice of the religious community being heard. The endeavors of the abolition of slavery; the women's suffrage movement; the emergence of the pacifist tradition during World War I; the struggles to support civil rights, labor unions, and migrant farm workers; and the anti-nuclear and peace movements have all succeeded in part because of the power and support of organized religion. Such authority and energy is required by individual Christians and the institutional church today if the liberation of animals is to become a reality."
The word 'ahimsa' literally means "nonviolence," and that's how I read it. According to Nine Beliefs of Hinduism, a tract published by the Himalayan Academy of San Francisco: "Hindus believe that all life is sacred, to be loved and revered, and therefore practice ahimsa, or nonviolence."
Brother Wayne Teasdale, a Benedictine monk who passed away a few years ago, similarly wrote in 1995: "...it is necessary to elevate nonviolence to a noble place in our civilization of loving compassion because nonviolence as ahimsa in the Hindu tradition, a tradition that seems to possess the most advanced understanding of nonviolence, IS love! Love is the goal and ultimate nature of nonviolence as an inner disposition and commitment of the heart. It is the fulfillment of love and compassion in the social sphere, that is, in the normal course of relations among people in the matrix of society."
Contemporary Hindu spiritual masters have taught that if one wishes to eat cow's flesh (or the flesh of any other animal for that matter), one should wait until the animal dies of natural causes, rather than take the life of a fellow creature. This indicates that we are vegetarian first and foremost out of nonviolence and compassion for animals, rather than because we follow "dietary laws."
As Brother Wayne Teasdale said, "nonviolence...IS love!" A popular vegetarian bumper sticker here in the United States reads: "Vegetarianism is love in action." The number of animals killed for food here in the United States is 70 times larger than the number of animals killed in laboratories, 30 times larger than the number killed by hunters and trappers, and 500 times larger than the number of animals killed in animal pounds. So vegetarianism and veganism would be a good place to start!
Roberta Kalechofsky of Jews for Animal Rights similarly says:
"Merely by ceasing to eat meat
Merely by practicing restraint
We have the power to end a painful industry
"We do not have to bear arms to end this evil,
We do not have to contribute money,
We do not have to sit in jail or go to meetings or demonstrations or engage in acts of civil disobedience
"Most often, the act of repairing the world, of healing mortal wounds, is left to heroes and tzaddikim (holy people) Saints and people of unusual discipline
"But here is an action every mortal can perform--surely it is not too difficult!"
During the height of Beatlemania, John Lennon was asked by a reporter, "Does your hair require any special attention?" To this, Lennon replied, "Inattention is the main thing." Similarly, with vegetarianism, we're not asking people to engage in activity--we're asking them to REFRAIN from engaging in an activity. By refraining from eating animals, they are, in effect, refraining from killing them.
By refraining from eating animals, refraining from using products tested on animals, refraining from patronizing forms of "entertainment" that use animals, refraining from wearing the furs or skins of animals, etc., we are, in effect, refraining from harming and killing animals altogether...just as pro-life Christians who refuse vaccines containing aborted fetal cells are refraining from contributing to the death of another human being.
Christians are sometimes reluctant to engage in what they misunderstand to be "good works," but again, we're not asking them to perform good deeds, just to REFRAIN FROM KILLING. This is not merely an academic point, it's one I make at the end of chapter seven of my book while discussing current trends in animal liberation theology: Perhaps the real question true believers should be asking themselves with regards to animal rights and vegetarianism is not "Why should Christians abstain from certain foods?", but rather, "Why should Christians want to harm or kill God's innocent creatures in the first place?"
I was pleasantly surprised by the wealth of information on Christianity and animal rights. Some of the most distinguished figures in the history of Christianity (the early church fathers, saints, religious reformers, etc.) have been vegetarian or at least sympathetic towards some aspects of animal rights, and the moral status of animals continues to be debated to this day, as found in the writings of Karl Barth and Dr. Albert Schweitzer.
To argue (as some Christians do) that animal rights and vegetarianism are solely "Jewish" concerns, is kind of like saying, "It's only wrong to own a slave if you're a Quaker." No. Suffering and injustice concern us all. Animal rights and vegetarianism are moral absolutes. They apply to everyone, including atheists and agnostics.
They Shall Not Hurt or Destroy has gotten a very favorable response from Christian vegetarians and vegans, of whom I have the deepest respect. I agree with Rick Dunkerly of Christ Lutheran Church, who said: "...the Bible-believing Christian, should, of all people, be on the frontline in the struggle for animal welfare and rights."
Mahayana Buddhism supports the vegetarian and (to some extent) the vegan way of life. I was impressed with Dr. Tony Page's Buddhism and Animals, which focuses almost entirely upon Mahayana Buddhism. In China, the Mahayana monks are expected to be vegetarian, and in China, tofu is referred to as "monk's food."
Dr. Page responded favorably to They Shall Not Hurt or Destroy, as did Reverend Heng Sure, an American Mahayana Buddhist monk, based in here in Northern California. James Dawson, a practicing Theravadin Buddhist, gave the book a favorable review in Live and Let Live, a pro-life, animal rights, Libertarian 'zine.
Judaism teaches "tsa'ar ba'alei chayim," or concern for animals. Secular scholar Keith Akers, whose writings were an influence on me, notes that compassion for animals is firmly rooted in Judaism.
Judaism may not be as ethically evolved as the Eastern religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism) in this regard, but it has shown far more love, mercy, and compassion towards the animal creation than has mainstream Christianity, and for that reason, it has my respect.
When They Shall Not Hurt or Destroy was still in manuscript form, Rabbi Jacob Feuerwerker, an orthodox rabbi, wrote me, saying, "You have a generally deep understanding of Judaism, and the books we hold dear (inspired)." Dr. Richard Schwartz, author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, also told me I summarized the Jewish case for vegetarianism quite well.
Yes. I wrote They Shall Not Hurt or Destroy with that in mind. If you read the Bible literally, all you can really prove is that we shouldn't be consuming animal blood (which, according to the rabbis, is meant to teach reverence for life and serves as a reminder that man ideally should not eat meat) or eating food offered to pagan idols...these make up part of the koshering laws, and they're found in the New Testament with regards to gentile converts to Christianity (Acts 15).
But there's more to religion than just the Scriptures. There is also theology and tradition: church history, secular history, the teachings of the early church fathers, the lives of the saints and religious reformers, etc. We (animal rights activists) don't want to turn meat-eating Christians into meat-eating Jews--we want to turn them into vegetarian and vegan Christians!
We're not trying to convert them, we just want them to listen to the vegetarian voices in their own tradition. We're not asking them to change their religion; we just want them to respond favorably--rather than remain an obstacle--to social progress. We just want them to be compassionate to animals.
Yes. In both the story of the Flood and the later story of the Israelites (during their exodus from Egypt) who demanded and got meat as having incurred God's wrath and were thus struck down by a plague (Number 11:4-34), meat is given a negative connotation. It is a concession God makes to man's imperfection. As Reverend Andrew Linzey notes, "...we have no biblical warrant for claiming killing as God's will. God's will is for peace."
The most-repeated argument against biblical vegetarianism I've gotten from Christians is that they think they are no longer under Mosaic Law, because the apostle Paul referred to his background as a former Pharisee and his previous adherence to Mosaic Law (with its dietary laws, commandments calling for the humane treatment of animals, etc.) as "so much garbage." (Philippians 3:4-8)
There is nothing in the synoptic gospels of Jesus, however, to suggest a fundamental break with Judaism. Jesus was called "Rabbi," meaning "Master" or "Teacher," 42 times in the gospels. The ministry of Jesus was a rabbinic one. Jesus related Scripture and God's laws to everyday life, teaching by personal example. He engaged in healing and acts of mercy. He told stories or parables--a rabbinic method of teaching. He went to the synagogue (Matthew 12:9), taught in the synagogues (Matthew 4:23, 13:54; Mark 1:39), expressed concern for Jairus, "one of the rulers of the synagogue" (Mark 5:36) and it "was his custom" to go to the synagogue (Luke 4:16).
Jesus began his ministry by teaching the multitudes not to "give what is sacred to the dogs, nor cast your pearls before swine." (Matthew 7:6) Dogs, like swine, were considered foul and unclean by the Hebrew people. (Deuteronomy 23:18; I Samuel 24:14; II Kings 8:13; Psalm 22:16,20; Matthew 7:6; Luke 16:21; Revelations 22:15) These words were used by the children of Israel to describe the neighboring heathen populations.
When sending his disciples out to preach, Jesus instructed them not to go to the gentiles, but to "go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." (Matthew 10:5-6) When a Canaanite woman asked Jesus to heal her daughter, he replied, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel...It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." (Matthew 15:22-28)
Jesus regarded the gentiles as "dogs." His gospel was intended for the Jewish people. Even the apostle Paul admits that the gospel was first intended for the Jews, and that the Jews have every advantage over the gentiles in this regard (Romans 1:16, 3:1-2).
When a scribe asked Jesus what is the greatest commandment in the Torah, Jesus began with "Hear O Israel, the Lord, thy God, is One Lord." This is the Shema, which is still heard in every synagogue service to this day. "And you shall love the Lord with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength...And you shall love your neighbor as yourself," Jesus concluded.
When the scribe agreed that God is one and that to love Him completely and also love one's neighbor as oneself is "more important than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices," Jesus replied, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." (Matthew 22:36-40; Mark 12:29-34; Luke 10:25-28)
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus himself said, "Do not suppose I have come to abolish the Law and the prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill...till heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or title pass from the Law till all is fulfilled. Whoever, therefore, breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven...unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:17-20)
Jesus also upheld the Torah in Luke 16:17: "And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for the smallest portion of the Law to become invalid."
Nor do these words refer merely to the Ten Commandments. Jesus meant the entire Torah: 613 commandments. When a man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus replied, "You know the commandments." He then quoted not just the Ten Commandments, but a commandment from Leviticus 19:13 as well: "Do not defraud." (Mark 10:17-22)
Jesus' disciples were once accused by the scribes and Pharisees of violating rabbinical tradition (Matthew 15:1-2; Mark 7:5), but not biblical law. At no place in the entire New Testament does Jesus ever proclaim Torah or the Law of Moses to be abolished; this was the theology of Paul, a former Pharisee who never knew Jesus, but who used to persecute Jesus' followers. Paul openly identified himself not as a Jew but as a Roman (Acts 22:25-26) and an apostate from Judaism (Philippians 3:4-8)
Sometimes Christians cite Matthew 7:12, where Jesus says "Do unto others..." and this "covers" the Law and the prophets. But Jesus was merely repeating in the positive what Rabbi Hillel taught a generation earlier. No one took Hillel's words to mean the Law had been abolished--why should we assume this of Jesus?
If Jesus really did come to abolish the Law and the prophets, Simon (Peter) would not have resisted a divine command to kill and eat both "clean" and "unclean" animals (Acts 10), nor would there have been a debate in the early church as to what extent the gentiles were to observe Mosaic Law (Acts 15). When Paul visited the church at Jerusalem, James and the elders told him all its members were "zealous for the Law," and that they were worried because they heard rumors that Paul was preaching against Mosaic Law (Acts 21).
None of these events would have happened had Jesus really come to abolish the Law and the prophets. Jesus not only repeatedly upheld Mosaic Law, he justified his healing on the Sabbath by referring to commandments calling for the humane treatment of animals!
While teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath, Jesus healed a woman who had been ill for eighteen years. He justified his healing work on the Sabbath by referring to biblical passages calling for the humane treatment of animals as well as their rest on the Sabbath. "So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham...be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?" Jesus asked. (Luke 13:10-16)
On yet another occasion, Jesus again referred to Torah teaching on "tsa'ar ba'alei chayim" or compassion for animals to justify healing on the Sabbath. "Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?" (Luke 14:1-5)
Jesus compared saving sinners who had gone astray from God's kingdom to rescuing lost sheep. He recalled a Jewish legend about Moses' compassion as a shepherd for his flock:
"For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost. What do you think? Who among you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it," Jesus continued, "he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'
"I say to you, likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance...there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." (Matthew 18:11-13; Luke 15:3-7,10)
Paul, on the other hand, said if anyone has confidence in Mosaic Law, "I am ahead of him" (Philippians 3:4-8). Would that include Jesus, who said he did not come to abolish the Law and the prophets? Would that include Jesus, who said whoever sets aside even the least of the laws demands shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:17-19)? Would that include Jesus, who taught that following the commandments of God is the only way to eternal life (Mark 10:17-22)? Would that include Jesus who said that it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for the smallest portion of the Law to become invalid (Luke 16:17)?
Paul may have regarded his previous adherence to Mosaic Law as "so much garbage," but it should be obvious by now that JESUS DIDN'T THINK THE LAW WAS "GARBAGE"!
If Christians assign greater value to Paul's teachings over those of Jesus, then "Christianity" really is "Paulianity". Bertrand Russell referred to Paul as the "inventor" of Christianity.
I'm not saying Christians should all be circumcised and following Mosaic Law. The Reverend Andrew Linzey, the foremost theologian in the field of animal-human relations and author of Christianity and the Rights of Animals (1987), rejected such an approach in a 1989 interview with the Animals' Agenda.
I'm merely saying that Christianity for the past 2000 years has been based on a misunderstanding. My friend Rankin Fisher (a former Missionary Baptist minister), quoted a Methodist minister friend of his as having admitted, "We (Christians) aren't really following Jesus. We're following Paul."
For the most part, it isn't dealt with at all. Thomas Aquinas taught that humans have no obligations towards animals. Pope Pius IX of the 19th century forbade the formation of an SPCA in Rome, declaring humans have no duties to animals.
On the other hand, in Ministry of Healing, Ellen White, founder of the Seventh Day Adventist Church wrote: "Think of the cruelty that meat eating involves, and its effect on those who inflict and those who behold it. How it destroys the tenderness with which we should regard these creatures of God!"
In Patriarchs and Prophets, White referred to numerous passages in the Bible calling for kindness to animals, and concluded that humans will be judged according to how they fulfill their moral obligations to animals:
"It is because of man's sin that 'the whole creation groaneth and travaileth together in pain' (Romans 8:22). Surely, then, it becomes man to seek to lighten, instead of increasing, the weight of suffering which his transgression has brought upon God's creatures. He who will abuse animals because he has them in his power is both a coward and a tyrant. A disposition to cause pain, whether to our fellow men or to the brute creation is satanic.
"Many do not realize that their cruelty will ever be known because the poor dumb beasts cannot reveal it. But could the eyes of these men be opened, as were those of Balaam, they would see an angel of God standing as a witness to testify against them in the courts above.
"A record goes up to heaven, and a day is coming when judgement will be pronounced against those who abuse God's creatures."
After the Flood, God gave permission for man to eat meat, but it must be understood that this is a concession, and not God's highest intent for humanity. God placed the Israelites on a vegetarian diet during their exodus from Egypt, and when they rebelled and demanded meat, He struck them down with a plague. (Numbers 11:4-34) Mosaic Law contains all kinds of commandments calling for the humane treatment of animals, and the Messianic prophecies (Isaiah 11:6-9; Hosea 2:18) give us a glimpse of God's ideal.
According to the Torah (Genesis 6:9), Noah is honored as a "tzaddik," or a righteous man. Commentators say this is because he provided charity ("tzedakah") for so many animals on the ark. The high level of awareness and concern given to the care and feeding of the animals aboard the ark reflects the traditional Jewish value of "tsa'ar ba'alei chayim." This moral principle--officially set down as law in the Bible and elaborated upon in the Talmud, the medieval commentaries and the Responsa literature--permeates the many legends that grew up around the leading figures in the Torah and in Jewish history.
Kindness to animals was so valued by the Jewish tradition, it was also considered an important measure of a person's piety, compassion and righteousness. From this value emerged the stories about how shepherds such as Moses and David were elevated to national leadership because of their compassion for their lambs. There are also many "maysehs", or moralistic folktales within Judaism about sages who rescued or fed stray cows and hungry chickens, watered thirsty horses and freed caged birds.
In the Talmud (Eruvin 100b), Rabbi Yochanon teaches, "Even if we had not been given the Torah, we still would have learned modesty from the cat, honesty from the ant, chastity from the dove, and good manners from the rooster. Thus, the animals should be honored."
According to the Talmud (Shabbat 77b), the entire creation is to be respected: "Thou thinkest that flies, fleas, mosquitos are superfluous, but they have their purpose in creation as a means of a final outcome...Of all that the Holy One, Blessed be He, created in His world, He did not create a single thing without purpose."
The Talmud (Avodah Zorah 18b) also forbids association with hunters. The Talmud (Gittin 62a) further teaches that one should not own a domestic or wild animal or even a bird if he cannot properly care for it. Although there is no general rule forbidding animal cruelty, so many commandments call for humane treatment, the talmudic rabbis explicitly declared compassion for animals to be biblical law (Shabbat 128b).
Over 50 billion animals are killed worldwide every year, and there is only one event in human history with which this level of violence can be compared. Dr. Tom Regan says that as a gentile he would never allude to it, but that one Jewish writer, Isaac Bashevis Singer, has compared humanity's mistreatment of the animal kingdom with the Holocaust. I think the analogy is accurate.
Singer once asked, "How can we pray to God for mercy if we ourselves have no mercy? How can we speak of rights and justice if we take an innocent creature and shed its blood?" In his foreword to Dudley Giehl's 1979 book, Vegetarianism: A Way of Life, Isaac Bashevis Singer concluded:
"I personally believe that as long as human beings will go on shedding the blood of animals, there will never be any peace. There is only one little step from killing animals to creating gas chambers a' la Hitler and concentration camps a' la Stalin---all such deeds are done in the name of 'social justice.' There will be no justice as long as man will stand with a knife or with a gun and destroy those who are weaker than he is."
I don't know if Hinduism is as loving towards animals as Buddhism or Jainism. Modern Hinduism teaches that only Brahmins must be vegetarian, and only beef is explicitly forbidden for all Hindus. Many Hindu vegetarians react with apprehension towards veganism.
Gandhi once said that a convert's enthusiasm for his religion will be greater than that of one born into the faith. We can see this with regards to veganism: Hindu vegetarians react with disdain towards giving up dairy products, whereas Westerners eagerly embrace it in the name of ahimsa.